Video Games: Easing ADHD Symptoms or Causing Them?

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If you believe that you or a loved one may suffer from ADHD, it’s likely that at some point you’ll find yourself tumbling down the Internet rabbit hole of ADHD-related musings, research, and think-pieces. While the diagnosis is far from a death sentence, it’s normal to wonder what life after a diagnosis will look like and what sorts of things may influence daily living.

ADHD and Video Games: Young man who may have ADHD playing a video game. How Technology Impacts ADHD Symptoms

With technology on the rise and innovation so rampant in the industry, it only makes sense that those in the ADHD community will wind up with questions about how technology can impact symptoms. This is especially true when it comes to video games. Just about every young child today spends a considerable amount of time playing video games; parents are right to wonder whether the past time may influence children with ADHD.

The good news is that there’s no need to worry! Child and adolescent psychiatrists have stated time and time again that video games have no bearing on the actual development of ADHD; but it turns out that in most cases, they don’t exacerbate preexisting symptoms, either.

To an untrained layperson, this might seem counter intuitive. Video games are constantly in motion– there’s never a time when something isn’t happening. To a child with ADHD, shouldn’t this be a problem? Short attention spans are a hallmark of the disorder, and it would seem to follow that feeding into that issue with video games may cause symptoms to worsen.

Luckily, this is untrue. Playing video games does not reinforce or worsen attention span problems– it’s just an easy, obvious outlet for recreation that gives hyperactive and hyper-focused kids something to work on. Children who find concentration to be a challenge enjoy video games so much because they can effectively hold their attention; the science linking ADHD and video games really doesn’t go any deeper or get any more nefarious than that.

Evolutionary biologists have actually suggested that the development of ADHD in the human gene pool can be traced back to humans’ time spent in tribes. It was good to have somebody hypervigilant around– they could keep an eye on the perimeter of camp while other tribe members tended to busywork. Should these theories be true, it would make perfect sense that hypervigilant individuals thrive in scenarios requiring constant attention.

That isn’t to say that sitting in front of the television playing video games all day is a tremendous benefit to children who have ADHD. Kids need more quality time with other people and within their environment than they’ll get glued to a console 24/7; but allowing littles with ADHD the space to exercise their hypervigilance through gaming won’t harm them at all.

Video Game Addiction and ADHD: Can ADHD lead to video game addiction? ADHD and Video Game Addiction

With all of that being said, it’s critical that parents and caretakers understand one key point:

Playing video games will not worsen ADHD symptoms or cause ADHD. However, the presence of ADHD can make a child more prone to developing symptoms of video game addiction.

Simply put– video games do not an ADHD diagnosis make; but an instance of ADHD diagnosis could be a cause for more careful monitoring of video game activity.

Video game addiction in and of itself is a serious problem. It may sound silly to those on the fringes of the gaming sphere, but it’s a genuine problem that can have a sizable impact on a developing child’s life. Most of us only think of addiction in terms of substance addictions; but psychiatrist Michael Brody, MD has set forth very broad criteria for addiction:

  1. The person needs more and more of a substance or behavior to keep [them] going
  2. If the person does not get more of the substance of behavior, [they] become irritable and miserable

This definition of addiction allows a much clearer insight into how children (and adults) can become addicted to video games. And while the presence of ADHD in young children is not guaranteed to lead to video game addiction, it is a factor that should be recognized and monitored accordingly.

The previously linked study suggesting a correlation between ADHD and video game addiction did include one critical point in its conclusion. According to researchers, “individuals who report ADHD symptomatology and also identify as gamers may benefit from psychoeducation about the potential risk for problematic play.”

Of course, explaining to a young child the intricate ins and outs of ADHD, addiction, and the world around them might prove to be a difficult task– but taking careful steps to provide age-appropriate education may help prevents kids with ADHD from tumbling down a dangerous path with video games.

The long and short of the answer to most parental concerns about ADHD and video games is that kids with ADHD like video games– not that video games cause ADHD or an increase in symptomology. Children who struggle with hyperactivity and hypervigilance are naturally drawn to opportunities that allow them to exercise those traits to their benefit rather than their detriment; and who could blame them?

Video Game Addiction

Parents and caretakers who are unsure of their footing surrounding the topic should take a deep dive into research and see what their own findings turn up. If you find yourself worried, there’s no need to feel out of the loop– maybe you’ve caught onto something about your individual child that others haven’t. Conferring with a medical professional and taking the time to speak openly with your own child about their video game habits can provide valuable insight into the greater picture of a situation.

Help for Video Game Addiction

In the event that your child’s video game habits begin to impair daily living, parents and caretakers should reach out to a treatment center for further information (and potentially a consultation). La Ventana offers addiction treatment in the Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills areas and also offers IOP services for clients struggling with ADHD. Having a compassionate and knowledgeable treatment team by your side as you work to provide your child with a better life can make all the difference– and that’s what raising children is all about.